Thursday, September 21, 2023
Home Hearth Transplantation Mattituck High School sweethearts renew vows after heart transplant

Mattituck High School sweethearts renew vows after heart transplant

by 123matchingdonors
0 comment

It’s September 2022. Joseph and Riley Peroni have been married for about two weeks, but they still haven’t left their wedding “chapel”: the cardiac ICU at Shand’s Hospital in Gainesville, Fla., about two hours northwest of Orlando.

Things are not looking good. Mr. Peroni, waiting patiently for a new heart, just underwent CPR for 26 minutes. His wife described the scene as something “out of a movie.

“He basically was bleeding out; he lost a ton of blood,” she said. “They weren’t sure what his cognitive condition was like.”

Mr. and Ms. Peroni met in their ninth-grade English class at Mattituck High School, from which they graduated in 2014. Ms. Peroni, then Riley Savercool, the new girl in town, fell in with a group that became friendly with Mr. Peroni and his friends. Fast-forward six years, when the two began dating as sophomores at their respective colleges — Mr. Peroni at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut and Ms. Peroni at the University of Delaware.

“One spring break I decided to have some friends over from high school,” Ms. Peroni said. “We just got to talking and realized that we had a lot more in common than we thought.”

In the summer of 2021, Mr. Peroni popped the big question, and they set a wedding date: Sept. 3, 2022.

“After a couple years, when we started really getting close to each other’s families, I just realized that I look at their family the same way I look at my own,” he said of his decision to ask for Riley’s hand in marriage. “I knew that I loved Riley, but in the back of your head, there’s still always that question if it’s the right move for both of us. At some point, I realized that I was being silly and it was time to pop the question.” 

Ms. Peroni said her then-boyfriend made her answer “an easy ‘yes.’ ”

“I actually had a crush on Joe in ninth grade,” she said. “[In] college, when we first had gotten together, he was just so nice, like generous. He’s the most giving person ever. He will give any of his friends, his family, especially, the shirt off his back. He’s so sweet. I always envisioned myself marrying him.”

But the couple was struck with a major challenge in the summer of 2022 when Mr. Peroni began having trouble breathing. After multiple hospital visits and tests, it was clear something was definitely wrong inside an otherwise healthy young man of 27.

Doctors determined that Mr. Peroni was suffering from severe heart failure. After enduring pneumonia in both lungs, rounds of antibiotics and steroids and a surgery to install a balloon pump in his aorta, his condition did not improve. He was put on life support — specifically extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which is for patients whose lungs and hearts cannot provide enough oxygen or pump enough blood — and added to the heart transplant waiting list. 

Although they were forced to call off their planned formal wedding, the couple feared it was now or never.

On Aug. 31, 2022, Mr. Peroni donned a T-shirt designed to mimic a tuxedo and married Ms. Peroni, who sported a veil and a white T-shirt inscribed with the word “bride.” A silver balloon arch shimmered above Mr. Peroni’s hospital bed. Their guest list was pared down from around 150 invitees to four, Mr. Peroni’s mother, father and sister and Ms. Peroni’s mother.

“When we were in the hospital, I realized that I had made the right choice [to propose],” Mr. Peroni said. “It was confirmed that the love was definitely there, and not only that, but [that she’s] someone who’s going to care for you for the rest of your life. So it’s pretty easy to see that I made the right decision.”

Only a couple of weeks into their marriage, things took a terrifying turn.

“There was an accident with the ECMO machine,” Ms. Peroni explained. “He basically had these tubes in his vessels and one of them came out.”

“They did CPR on him for 26 minutes and they got him back,” she recalled. “The surgeon came running in … threw his keys, he was in his flip-flops, just came from dinner with his family … he ran in, saved the day.”

Until doctors were sure Mr. Peroni hadn’t lost any brain function, Ms. Peroni added, he was paused on the transplant waiting list for 24 hours. “Thankfully he didn’t,” she said.

Hope soon followed in the form of an available heart, thanks to a donor who remains anonymous. The donor’s family has yet to reach out to Mr. Peroni, he said, but he often thinks about what he might say if he hears from them.

“I don’t think there are any words I can put together that would explain the amount of appreciation that myself and my family has for the donor and the donor’s family,” he said. “ ‘Thank you,’ I think that’s the biggest thing I’d like to say.

“Being an organ donor, it’s not just something that goes on your license — it’s something that saves lives,” he added. “I’m proof of that.”

Following Mr. Peroni’s surgery, he and his wife both faced a long road to recovery.

“He kind of had to learn to walk again, to get some muscle mass back,” Ms. Peroni explained. 

“I never realized the two components to what you’re dealing with after a surgery like this,” Mr. Peroni said. “One obviously being the physical recovery, which I would say went actually pretty well; we had no real hiccups. But the other side was the mental aspect, and that’s definitely the part where I struggled.

“It seems like people think that it’d be very easy to appreciate life after something like this,” he continued. “You spend a lot of time wondering why you were saved, why this happened to you at all, and how to move forward and live a happy life. So that took a little while to kind of figure out with the help of Riley, my family and my doctors.”

Mr. Peroni said he also sought therapy to aid his recovery.

“Riley really knows what she’s doing as a nurse in terms of getting me better physically, but mental health is something that I don’t think either of us had a whole lot of experience dealing with,” he said. “So it was definitely a learning curve for both of us to figure out how to get better and ultimately be happy … There’s a stigma it seems regarding mental health in general, but when you need help you need it, and I learned that it’s okay to accept that.”

After taking time away from her job as a nurse through the Family and Medical Leave Act, Ms. Peroni quit her job to become her husband’s full-time caregiver. To get through this trying time, she said, she “leaned on” her mother and her sister, who is also a nurse, as well as her new in-laws.

“My mom was so helpful, she was able to fly down, she was with me through all the rough times,” she said. “His parents never left his side, they’ve been amazing … I don’t even want to call them in-laws, they’re my parents, too.

“I’m doing a lot better,” she said. “I still get a little anxious about everything, but I’ve kind of just learned to cope.”

The couple, who live in Jupiter, Fla., have been staying with Mr. Peroni’s parents in Mattituck. They said they hope to return to their Florida home by the end of the year. 

On Saturday, Sept. 2, one year and two days after they shared their vows in the ICU, the Peronis celebrated their nuptials again — this time before more than 100 guests at Peconic Bay Yacht Club. Mr. Peroni donned a proper tux and Ms. Peroni wore a traditional white gown. They smiled from ear-to-ear as they danced.

“It was amazing, honestly, I think so much better than either of us could have expected,” Mr. Peroni said. “It was great to have everyone together, all the family, friends.”

“Now that our wedding celebration is over, it’s kind of like a new start,” he added. “We’re excited to see what this new year, and all of the years after, bring.”

You may also like

Leave a Comment

About Us

Welcome to Transplant news, your trusted source for the latest updates, stories, and information on transplantation and organ donations. We are passionate about sharing the inspiring journeys, groundbreaking research, and invaluable resources surrounding the world of transplantation.

Copyright ©️ 2023 Transplant News | All rights reserved.